by June 2014 graduate Elaine Mara
Wow! What an adventure this has been! I am certainly not the person I was when I arrived at Guiding Eyes just three short weeks ago. In those weeks, I transformed from a timid, fearful traveler into a confident young woman and can walk with pride in myself and all I have accomplished.
I’ve always had low vision but have been on a bit of a roller coaster with it over the last few years. My visual field started to close off, and take my confidence with it. I had brain surgery and regained the vision I had lost but, in just two years, I went through the loss again and the second surgery didn’t have the same result as the first so my confidence didn’t return quite as quickly.
I’ve never been a fan of change but I knew in order to go where I wanted to go in life, I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing. After all, isn’t insanity “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”? Albert Einstein thought so. I asked a friend about Guiding Eyes for the Blind and I knew I had to give it a try.
I knew I had made the right decision from the moment I went on my first Juno walk as part of my interview. Even though a real guide dog was not in that harness, the movements the instructor made while holding the harness were very similar to those that a dog would make. It is difficult to explain how it feels to go through something like that and then get the acceptance email two weeks later.
Time seemed to slow, and even stop at times but I finally experienced my first Dog Day and met Kyle, the dog that would guide me through training and bonding, showing me how much my life could change…for the better!
As we walked our daily routes in the rain, sun, heat, and dark of night, I began to see myself, my life differently. I realized that I didn’t have to go it alone but I could go it independently, as long as I had my guide dog by my side.
The trips were rocky at times, full of mistakes and emotions. On several occasions, I remember asking myself if I had made the right decision and maybe this would be too hard of a skill for me to learn in just three weeks.
The stress was high, the emotions were raw and real but so were the results. The joy in praising my dog after he kept me out of trouble’s path began to outweigh the stress of finding places in my brain to store all the information I needed to remember. I began to look at life differently. Escalators and revolving doors took on a new meaning and a new skill set. But weaving through the aisles of breakables in Macy’s at the mall, and coming out on the other side without breaking a single glass, boosted my confidence to a new high.
I embarked on this journey, did something for me but along the way, I have made friends who turned into a family. On Dog Day, we passed a box of tissues as we each learned the names of our dogs; we cheered as we each came in from successful routes and we became listening ears when exercises didn’t go as well as planned. As a first-time handler, I found comfort in the advice of the experienced handlers in class and hearing the words “It’s going to be okay” never got old; they actually eased my mind.
Today marks the end of formal training and a new beginning. For my fellow new handlers, we leave here with a new outlook on life, a bigger family, but most importantly, a new confidence. Ben, Lori, Michelle, Julie, Jolene and the rest of the Guiding Eyes staff have equipped us with the skills to get to where we want to go; we just have to pick up our dogs’ harnesses and go “forward”!